The Wind Is Cold
The school was on a 160-acre campus, just a few short blocks off the wondrous miracle mile of glitzy suburban shopping strips, near a wooded patch secluded away from any residential or commercial area. In its parking lot waited dozens and dozens of high-priced luxury cars, whether for the high-school drivers or the mommies and nannies to pick up the younger ones. She sat in her car for a moment and smoothed her hair, reapplied her lip gloss, and checked her phone. Her palms were sweating and she couldn’t breathe as easily as she would have liked. Nerves, she thought, maybe from memories from her own childhood?
Though she knew what was coming, she refused to face it and continued to forge ahead without asking herself any hard questions. She looked great, a new crème-colored custom suit, Louis Vuitton purse, Hermes scarf, shoes—well, exquisite as always. How could anything be wrong when everything looked so right? She checked one more time in the mirror and stepped out of the car. The wind was cold, and it snuck up on her like a thief, seizing her balance and slapping her sharply. Punishment. She hustled to the double doors of the middle school. The first door she tried was locked and in the moment it took to move her hand to the next door, she felt doubly violated as the wind bullied her again. The second door opened and she slammed it behind her, securing it as if to keep out the mugger. As she turned around, a school administrator scowled at her for the door slam. “The wind,” she said.
She collected herself in the reflection of a window and smoothed her hair again and retied her scarf. She proceeded down the long, quiet hallway to the conference room noted on the paper she clasped in her hand just inside her purse. Room 124, North Wing, 3pm sharp, Mrs. Barnard and Dr. Schimm. Her daughter, 5th grade, was in her 3rd year at this elite, private school. She was on the waiting list for 3 years before she was welcomed in a spot vacated by a hedge fund family who moved back to Manhattan.
She approached the room and felt her heart race and her palms sweat again. She stopped in front of the door, but stepped aside for a moment and turned her back. She felt the heat to the tips of her ears. She took a deep breath, the kind her yoga and pilates instructor trained her to do: a deep breath from the abdomen, hold it, keep holding, hold one more, then release slowly, like pouring water from a tall pitcher. She just couldn’t shake it, though. The breathing didn’t make her feel any better. She felt a creeping nausea and proceeded to pace around the hallway, rhythmically like she used to do as a child when her parents used to scream at one another and throw half-drunk glasses of aged scotch across the living room.
All these years she’s played by the rules, she’s done everything expected of her, and made all the right choices, she thought, to position her to have all the right things in life. She met the right people and stayed in touch. Met who she thought was the right man and married him. Though he’s not the right man, he had the right bank account so at least she and her daughter can live well while he’s off gallivanting in London for the company. She doesn’t try too hard, by her standards at least, and appears self-confident and easy-going.
Is it time to think seriously about the choices I’ve made, she thought to herself? She felt chills up her back. It seems like now is the time to think about what’s next. What if we moved to the cabin, out in Pennsylvania? There are probably no schools near there for her daughter, who clearly needs more attention than even this private institution can provide. Alright, it’s not attention she needs, it’s more than that–she’s not growing out of the fits.
She heard some kids down at the other end of the hallway and it snapped her out of her thoughts. Enough of this, she thought. I’m not going in to this conference room with the school psychologist, headmaster, and her daughter’s teacher to hear everything I already know. I had planned on acting surprised, and what good would that do? I’m tired of bullshitting people. Why am I playing this game anymore? Everything isn’t perfect. I can’t put a gloss on it all. My kid is fucked up and it’s time I deal with it the right way.
She stormed into the conference room.
“Look, I know my kid has problems. You don’t have to set up a scolding session for me—there’s enough shame involved in it anyway. Do you want her out now, or can we finish out the year?” she said in one breath, not looking any of the administrators in the eye.
The headmaster stood up, placed his large hands on the table with some force and leaned in. He took a deep breath and looked down.
“Mrs. Porter, it’s not your daughter that this meeting is about, it’s you.”